Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Democracy is Alive in Bolivia

Coups like the one against Evo Morales are what happen when a nation realizes that a constitution that means whatever the people in power want it to mean is the functional equivalent of no constitution at all.
At the end of my last post, I promised to next address the propensity of so many conservative pundits to rabbit on about the difference between a ‘republic’ and a ‘democracy’ instead of confronting the actual problems that prevent this form of government – and yes, both these words refer to the same thing – from existing in modern America. I would be covering that subject today if it weren’t for a sudden turn of events in Bolivia which merits some commentary, and which has also demonstrated, in action, the principle which I had devoted my last post to explaining:

Namely, that democracy can only exist when mass civil unrest follows any refusal, by the governing authorities, to acknowledge limits on their power.

A quick review of the background to the situation in Bolivia is in order. Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia in 2005. He began his political career as leader of the coca farmers’ union, and has always been popular among the rural poor. Morales is a socialist, and he devoted much of his presidency to reducing foreign influence over Bolivia’s economy and curbing the power of multinational corporations. He nationalized several industries, such as Bolivia’s main power grid, which were previously owned by consortia of mostly-foreign investors.

Perhaps my readers would expect me, as a right-winger, to be bothered by all of this, but I’m not. I don’t believe in the right of one country’s corporations to own another country’s land and infrastructure. And electing someone like Evo Morales was a good move on the part of the Bolivian people, who wanted to do something about the fact that foreign financiers were hauling away so much of their country’s wealth.

Morales easily won re-election in 2009, getting 64 percent of the vote – more than twice as big as the share that went to the runner-up. That same year, Bolivia adopted a new constitution, under which the President was limited to two terms. But since Morales had served his first term before the change, the limit wouldn’t kick in until the end of his third term. Morales got re-elected again in 2014, by the same huge margin, and should have left office in 2019.

In 2016, two years into what was supposed to be his final term, President Morales held a referendum attempting to amend the constitution to eliminate the term limit. The amendment was voted down, 51.3% to 48.7%. Rather than accept the results, Morales did what modern politicians often do when they lose an election: ask the courts to impose the policy change they want anyways. Bolivia’s Supreme Court issued a hairbrained ruling that the term limits somehow violated the American Convention on Human Rights, and the way was cleared for Morales to run again.

In Bolivia, a presidential candidate can win on the first round in one of two ways: either by getting a majority of the vote outright, or by beating the runner-up by at least ten percentage points. Otherwise, the election goes into a runoff. In 2019, Evo Morales went into the election much weaker than before. His rivals, taken together, ended up getting a majority of the vote, but Morales with his 47 percent still beat out the top runner-up by the requisite ten points.

Morales declared himself the winner, but his victory was widely considered illegitimate: not only had the President flaunted the term limit, he was also dogged by rampant allegations of electoral fraud. Violent protests broke out across the country, and the police and military struggled to keep order as the President’s supporters and his enemies duked it out in the streets.

Then, on Sunday, 10 November – three weeks after the election – the police and the military turned against President Morales and demanded that he resign. That night, Morales, his vice president, and everyone else in the line of secession resigned their offices and fled the country, leaving Jeanine Áñez, the President of the Senate, to become Acting President.

The international reaction to these events was mixed. While many observers were glad to see Morales gone, they found it distasteful that he was ousted by a military coup. The whole thing seemed, to them, like an affront to the rule of law.

The trouble is that if the Bolivians had adhered to the modern, Western concept of the “rule of law” – which in practice is nothing more than the power of the courts to do whatever they want – Morales would never have been overthrown. He did, after all, get the Supreme Court to say that everything he was doing was legal.

 If Bolivia had followed the example set by the United States, that would have been the end of the story. Here in the US, the Supreme Court always gets obeyed, no matter how nonsensical its reasoning. (The last successful resistance was in 1857, when the Taney Court’s attempt to legalize slavery nationwide backfired spectacularly). But the Bolivians are wiser than that, and they realized that a constitution that means whatever the people in power want it to mean is worse than no constitution at all.

And what of the role of the military in all this? My opinion is that they did their duty. According to the Bolivian constitution, Morales had no right to be president a fourth time, and the soldiers and police owed him no allegiance. To accept him as their commander anyway would have been an attack on the constitutional order. Military subservience to civilian authorities has outlived its usefulness if formerly honorable soldiers end up becoming henchmen to a civilian dictator simply because he is a civilian.

That, at least, is the principle that the world should have learned from what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Back then, the Wehrmacht officer corps was, for the most part, very suspicious of Nazi rule, and from Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until the invasion of Poland in 1939, there were nearly a dozen coups plotted against him. In each case the men involved balked at the last minute, deciding that an attack on civilian authority was a more extreme measure than the situation actually called for.

History went on to show how wrong they had been.

Returning to the matter of Bolivia, it is my hope that what’s left of the government will be able to restore order in the country and that the new elections, once called, will produce a president who can earn the widespread respect of his or her countrymen in much the same way that Evo Morales once did, during his early years in office, before the power got to his head.

Meanwhile, citizens of the United States would do well to contemplate the lessons of the Bolivian coup: First, that revolutionary activity – be it of whatever nature – is necessary when the governing authorities refuse to abide by constitutional limits. And second, that a constitution that means whatever the Supreme Court says it means is the functional equivalent of no constitution at all.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

I Totally Called It On Brexit

In February of this year, I predicted that there would be no Brexit by the 29 March deadline. I was right. The next magic day was 31 October, which has proven equally uneventful. Now it’s time to think about how all this fits into the long arc of the rise and fall of British democracy.
Way back on February 27 of this year, less than a week after I started blogging at Twilight Patriot, I predicted that there would be no Brexit. This went against the conventional thinking on the matter: the British people had voted to leave the European Union, the May government had spent nearly two years negotiating the terms of departure, and the promise was that Britain would be out by 29 March.

In the three-years-and-change since the June 2016 referendum, the mainstream media and the alt-media have both put out a copious stream of thinkpieces expressing a dizzying array of opinions about the meaning and significance of Brexit. While these writers can’t agree on whether the outcome of the election was good or bad, they generally at least see it as something important, a sign of the ongoing populist revolt against the technocratic global elite.

Needless to say, my belief that the whole thing would end up proving to be no big deal didn’t get a lot of traction. But when Brexit day came and went, and came and went again, and is now coming and going the third time, I think that events have borne me out. Granted, the British government is, for the moment, maintaining the pretence that Brexit will happen – right now, the date is 31 January – but when Boris Johnson’s protestations that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit past today (it now being 31 October) didn’t pan out, I don’t think it’s wise to assume that the future will be any different than the past.

In my post in February, I claimed that elections, across most of the western world, now have very little impact on public policy. This is actually even more true in the United States than it is in Britain. Just consider how useless all those referenda against same sex marriage turned out to be, or the fact that, shortly after their big win in the 2014 midterms, Republicans were treated to the legalization of several million illegal aliens in the DACA program, an action which President Trump, after riding into power on an outraged electorate, has been forbidden by the courts from reversing.

The reason that the elites get to ignore elections these days is that they can do so without facing civil unrest. If, in 1815, Federal Marshals had shown up in a small town in Kentucky in order to arrest the county clerk for refusing to marry same-sex couples, the Marshals would have gotten tarred and feathered, in an optimistic scenario. If, in 1816, Britain had voted to leave an international organization, and that organization’s officers hadn’t responded by promptly vacating their British posts, the populace would have responded by rioting and burning their offices.

And if my defence of mob violence as a necessary support for democracy seems too crass, I invite you to consider where political power, in general, comes from. Our word ‘political,’ after all, shares a root with ‘police,’ and people obey the police because they know that if they don’t, they could get arrested, beaten, or shot. They obey mayors, governors, and judges because those officials control the police. And state and local governments, with their mayors, governors, judges, and policemen in tow, obey the central government because the standing army is even more powerful than they are.

In short, we have the rulers we have because those rulers are willing, and able, to respond to disobedience with violence. Violence doesn’t have to happen often – in the United States, for instance, the federal government hasn’t had to wage war against noncompliant states since the 1860s, and it hasn’t even had to threaten them with soldiers since the 1960s. Still, the memory of violence is there, and the obedience follows.

In a democracy, revolutionary violence has to be a possibility if the dictates of the common people are spurned – otherwise, the people don’t rule, and the regime isn’t a democracy. When election results are overturned or ignored by the intelligentsia, civil unrest ought to follow. Otherwise, the whole idea of ‘power to the people’ is a sham.

The whole history of British democracy is a testament of this. All the rights that the common Englishman has gained since that day in 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta on the meadow of Runnymede are rights that were at first given grudgingly, when the King or the nobles realized that the alternative was another uprising. Throughout the centuries, as countless Englishmen bore arms in defence of their liberties, a consensus emerged about what the people's rights were – or in other words, what lines the King couldn’t cross without having another insurrection on his hands.

The American War of Independence was an offshoot of all this. Among the most sacred of the traditional rights of Englishmen was the right not to be taxed without the consent of an elected body in which they were represented. For the first century or so of the English settlement of America, colonial governors, who represented the King, shared power with local elected legislatures, whose consent was needed to impose taxes. Americans were generally content with this arrangement, King and all, but when the distant Parliament in London decided that it could make laws for both the mother country and the colonies, the desires of the local representative houses being irrelevant, war ensued.

Nowadays it seems like this arc is coming to an end. Unlike their ancestors who fought war after war to preserve their rights of self-government, the people of modern Britain have shown that their electoral preferences have no teeth. The people being thus unwilling to hold onto political power, the right of rulership has passed on to someone else – not, of course, back to Her Majesty the Queen, but to an assortment of ministers, judges, and unscrupulous MPs who don’t feel bound to carry out the agenda their constituents voted for.

Some Brexiteers still hold out hope that the next parliamentary election, scheduled for December, will turn out a government committed enough to strike a deal before the new deadline. But they shouldn’t hold their breath; none of the previous elections did that. In any case, the vote back in June of 2016 was close; “Leave” only won by 52% to 48%. Eventually, the Tories will become disillusioned and their turnout will suffer, Labour will win a majority in one of these snap elections, and the whole thing will end up dead and buried, alongside the larger project of British democracy.

American democracy, on the other hand, is already a nonentity, having seldom reared its head since the Warren Court overthrew what was left of the constitution in the 1960s. Congress is now impotent, most policy is dictated by lobbyists, and on those rare occasions when the people get around to making their voice heard anyway – like they did in the same-sex marriage referenda – no charade of compliance is necessary on the part of the elites. Justice Kennedy delivered his ruling, the media celebrated, and the people who had voted on the winning side of the election were denounced as bigots six ways from Sunday.

Now, some of my readers are probably doctrinaire conservatives who, though agreeing with much of what I say, are bothered by my characterization of the government under which we once lived as democratic. “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” they say, seemingly oblivious to the fact that human language only has the meaning that its users agree upon, and that for the vast majority of the people who have used these two words throughout the last few centuries, they were synonyms.

And this is as it should be, because “Democracy” and “Republic” started out as Greek and Latin words that meant the same thing. That is why, for example, the Hellenic Republic (the country which westerners, going back to Roman times, have called ‘Greece’) is called in its own tongue Helleniké Demokratía.

The question of why so many conservative intellectuals make so much hay out of this imaginary distinction – a distinction which, I should add, ought to have little relevance to people living under an oligarchy – is something that I plan to address next week..

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Stop Projecting Things Onto Russia

A fair examination of Russian affairs will reveal a human rights record that is, in most cases, better than that of the United States. So why does the American media use Russia as a blank screen on which to project its image of tyranny?
Recently, one of my readers contacted me to share his lengthy train of opinions about my blog and the topics it deals with. Mostly, these opinions were positive. He especially liked my use of the Blind Men and the Elephant as a metaphor for the civilizational decline that we’re currently in – a decline so broad and multifaceted that different observers can perceive totally different causes for it, and yet all be partly in the right.

But he had a major disagreement with me regarding my inclusion of Vladimir Putin in a list of people I admire in a post I wrote back in June. “I would not use the word ‘admire’ for Mr. Putin or people like him,” this reader said. “We can ‘understand’ how Russians feel, we can appreciate the skill of a Putin in playing to those feelings and accomplishing, to some extent, his goal of Russian national regeneration – without admiring him.  The same applies to other skillful politicians: Lenin, Hitler, Roosevelt.”

There’s just one problem with this reader’s characterization of the situation – I really do admire Vladimir Putin. I am aware of his country’s less-than-perfect human rights record, but even so, the Russian Federation is far from the autocratic caricature that Western media outlets have drawn. Indeed, I think that, in our times, Russia is a greater defender of human rights than United States. In any case, the Russia of today is certainly a vast improvement over what Putin inherited from Yeltsin back in 1999. Comparing Putin to Lenin and Hitler is ridiculous. (And including a Roosevelt – either of them – in that list is also ridiculous).

The event that prompted me to finally write this article was when the Drudge Report made a top headline story – and a bright red top headline at that – out of Russia’s test of RuNet, the all-Russian version of the internet designed to maintain Russia’s self-sufficiency in the face of the American-dominated global version.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, how the media would react in an alternate world where some country other than the United States – China, perhaps – controlled the global information lanes, and America decided to build an independent backup system out of China’s reach. Nobody would question the propriety of such a project. But when the country building a local internet is Russia – the blank screen onto which Americans project their visions of dictatorship – you’ll hear all about how Vladimir Putin is trying to stamp out freedom of speech and cut his people off from the rest of the world.

Just don’t stop to wonder why Vladimir Putin would need to do that.  He won last year’s election with 77 percent of the vote, and even in his closest election – in 2000 – he got nearly twice as many votes as his closest rival. In America, by contrast, the elections are nearly all squeakers, and the most recent one has featured the defeated party trying every gimmick it could think of to reverse the result.

Some Western pundits try to discredit Putin’s victories by attributing them to fraud, but everybody who’s been on the ground in Russia knows that the President is immensely popular. In any case, the intelligent observer should ask himself which situation is more likely to be influenced by fraud: Vladimir Putin walloping his opponents by two- and three-to-one margins, or what happened in Florida in 2000?

Then you have the people who compile democracy indices for publications like the Economist, who fault Russia because its President is too powerful. What they overlook is that the reason that President Putin can make whatever laws he wants is that his party, United Russia, has won huge majorities in the Duma over and over again.

In America, on the other hand, big changes in the law usually have nothing to do with who controls Congress. Just consider who was behind DACA, or the legalization of same-sex marriage. It isn’t your elected representatives who are writing the laws. Yet America still gets sky-high ratings from the Economist, because the neo-liberal intellectuals who write democracy indices don’t care whether elected officials are making a country’s laws or not, as long as they get laws that they like.

Russia also fights in a lot fewer foreign wars than the United States. Granted, when the Russians ally with someone like Bashar al-Assad in the fight against ISIS, the US media goes all in about how awful Assad is. But the Americans also fought on Assad’s side, except when we didn’t. And we fought for the Kurds, until we sold them out – basically, we’ve fought on nearly every side of this war. The Russians just picked a side and stuck with it until the Islamic State was stamped out, and they shed a lot less blood in the process.

Another bone of contention for Westerners is Russia’s invasion of the Crimea back in 2014; what most people never talk about is that the Russians only did this after the government of the Ukraine was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. Also, the Crimea immediately joined the Russian Federation and is now represented in the Duma alongside all the other Russian constituencies. America, on the other hand, has held Puerto Rico for 121 years without giving it any representation in Congress.

Russia is nonetheless without its flaws, of which police brutality is a major one. It also has a worse-than-average incarceration rate, with 316 prisoners per 100,000 people. America, on the other hand, has 655 prisoners per 100,000, which is literally the highest incarceration rate in the world. A country doesn’t earn a distinction like that if all, or even most, of its prisoners actually deserve it. But with a combination of exorbitant sentences for nonviolent crimes, uncritical faith in the testimony of jailhouse snitches, and ignorant jurors who believe, more often than not, that it’s the defendant’s responsibility to prove his own innocence, America has managed the feat.

Also, in Russia, putting children on Ritalin and similar drugs is strictly illegal. If you were to take the Western media’s word for it, this is more evidence of how backwards the Russians are – i.e. they are ignorant of the prevalence of ADHD among children.

But the truth is that the Russians aren’t, nor have they ever been, ignorant of the fact that most children fidget and squirm in their seats, make careless mistakes on their schoolwork, and would rather be playing outside than sitting at a desk. In other words, children are more rambunctious and distractible than adults, and by definition, half of them are more so than the average child. The only difference is that the Russians have not chosen to categorize these things as a mental disorder.

The science behind child-drugging is sound: the symptoms of ADHD really do go away under medication; it is possible to make a child act less like a child by giving him a drug that suppresses his growth, makes him more aggressive and irritable, and dampens his desire to socialize with other children, play outside, climb trees, and do other things that healthy children do. And while the drugs work well for imposing conformity in America’s factory schools, research has failed to find any lasting academic benefits.

Also, drug dependency in childhood has been shown by neuroimaging to lead to permanent deficiencies in dopamine and GABA+, the same chemicals that the drug is boosting in the short term. So the upshot is that some ten to fifteen percent of the male population, plus a smaller number of girls, will grow into broken adults who suffer from depression, delusional thinking, and all sorts of mental illnesses, because some of their neurotransmitters are just missing.

In America, the authorities have decided that this is an acceptable tradeoff for a few years of improved behavior in grade school. But that is not the way that things are done in Holy Russia.

And I shouldn’t even need to get started on the advantages of living in a country where child custody disputes do not involve the question of whether the child should be raised as a boy or a girl.

Some people, after hearing about these kinds of things, like to console themselves by saying that, despite its shortcomings, the form of government that America’s founders gave us is still the best in the world. The trouble is, we are no longer operating under the government that the founders set up.

The founders didn’t create a Congress that had no say in how the laws are made. They didn’t give the President unilateral power to wage war. They didn’t give the Supreme Court power to amend the constitution. And they set up protections for defendants’ rights which, if followed, would have kept us from having the world’s highest incarceration rate.

 And if the other human rights abuses that I just described never factored in by the men who wrote the Constitution of 1787, it’s because the power of human beings to anticipate future madness only goes so far.

If we valued what the founders gave us, and shared their outlook on life, then we would respond to the refusal of our government to protect these inalienable rights in the same way that they did – by having a revolution.

But instead, most Americans have chosen to turn a blind eye to the evil going on in their own land, and instead project the shadow onto a nation and a man who have done far more to defend human rights than anyone on this side of the ocean.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Don’t Be America’s Client State

Back in 1776, America claimed a “separate and equal status” with other nations. But now, our alliances are usually based on an understanding that the other nation has fewer rights than we do. And in the end, America’s client states always end up getting sold out by the regime in Washington.
Foreign affairs have accounted for a larger-than-usual share of notable events this week, with newsfeeds blaring out headlines like the following:

US Withdraws From Syria With Tail Between Legs!

Trump and Syria: The Worst Week For US Foreign Policy Since The Iraq Invasion?

Trump’s Betrayal Of The Kurds Will Echo For Generations.

To make a long story short, when President Trump abruptly withdrew American troops from Syria, Turkish forces poured across the border to secure the territory and finish off the last of ISIS. Caught in the crossfire are the Kurds, the only faithful allies that America and Israel ever had in that part of the world. Kurdistan’s brief foray into self-government, which began when the regimes in Baghdad and Damascus fled ISIS’ territory and left the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone, is now on the verge of being stamped beneath the Turkish boot.

This turn of events is certainly dismaying, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody with a memory longer than that of a goldfish. About two years ago, in September of 2017, Kurdistan held an independence referendum with 93% voting in favour. The United States, despite characterizing itself as Kurdistan’s ally, refused to support Kurdish independence, as did most other countries, the main exception being Israel.

Ever since then, it’s been obvious that, while America might have an alliance of convenience with Kurdistan, that alliance isn’t based on any concept of equal rights. The Kurds do not, for instance, have the right to self-determination that the Americans exercised in July of 1776.

And the outcries that recent events have elicited from President Trump’s political rivals should be taken for the crocodile tears that they are. Neither party’s mainstream has ever supported Kurdish independence. That the Kurds should have less rights than we do is a matter of agreement; the question is only how much less.

And now the upshot of it all is that the nation which bore the brunt of the fighting in the ground war against ISIS will learn the same bitter lesson which nations like Taiwan have already learned – that America will always sell out its client states.

No doubt the opponents of Kurdish independence have reasons for their point of view. For one thing, national identities based on ethnic heritage are considered backwards in the world of today, where the inhabitants of the Middle East and Africa are expected to instead direct their loyalty based on lines arbitrarily drawn on a map by European colonial powers. And for the Kurds, those lines point toward Baghdad and Damascus.

Another reason is simply that Turkey, which is an important geopolitical partner of the United States, doesn’t want an independent Kurdistan.

Still, if one goes back and reads the American Declaration of Independence – the piece of legislation on which our ideas about when a country has the right to become independent ought to be based – one will find that appeasing the largest nation in the area wasn’t a driving concern for us. And it wasn’t a driving concern for other countries, either: France, Spain, and the Netherlands all recognized American independence before the Revolutionary War was over.

And when General Cornwallis was surrounded at Yorktown both on land and by sea, and he tried to surrender to the French navy rather than endure the embarrassment of surrendering his sword to the rebels, the French refused the offer. Cornwallis had to surrender to Washington.

A little over a century later, America found itself in a similar situation to the one that France had been in. The Spanish-American war was near an end, and the defeated Spanish force in Manilla, caught between an American fleet and the land forces of Filipino independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo, ignored Aguinaldo and surrendered to the Americans. The Americans not only accepted the surrender, but reneged on their promise to support Philippine independence and spent the next few years fighting a brutal counterinsurgency against their former allies, at last reducing the fledgling Philippine republic to just one more American territory.

Such transparent landgrabs aren’t in fashion in the world of today, and in any case, the United States is past the phase in its history where expansionism is seen as desirable. Now, the process of betrayal simply consists of abandoning an ally to the depredations of whichever large, nearby country believes that said ally has no right to exist.

This is what happened with Taiwan, when America suspended diplomatic relations in order to appease a larger and wealthier new partner in Red China, and then bullied the Taiwanese into giving up their nuclear program. Now Taiwan is defenceless against the day when the Maoist regime finally decides that the time has come to retake a territory whose allies have already decided that it deserves fewer rights than they do.

This is what is happening to the Kurds right now, and it’s what will probably also happen to South Korea, once America no longer has the resources to keep a huge garrison in that country and the South Koreans realize, all too late, that keeping Kim Jong Un’s men out would have required a military that could stand on its own two feet.

But there is one country that is often mistaken for an American client state, even though it doesn’t actually deserve that label. A country which has a close military alliance with the United States and which, like Taiwan, is surrounded by enemies who insist that it has no right to exist. But rather than relying solely on American garrisons to protect itself, that country used universal conscription to build the strongest military in the region. And that country also refused to be bullied into not developing nuclear weapons.

The country that I am talking about is, of course, Israel. And the reason that Israel will probably continue to exist in the post-American world is because, unlike Taiwan, South Korea, and Kurdistan, Israel has avoided becoming America’s client state.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Playthings of the Wind


As I am too busy to write a new post today, I will instead share one of my favorite poems: the second of Carl Sandberg's Preludes on Playthings of the Wind.

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation:
    nothing like us ever was.

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation,
    nothing like us ever was.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Eternal Impeachment?

Passing articles of impeachment against Trump won’t get rid of him, but it will set a new precedent in American politics – namely, that every president gets impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House of Representatives.
Well, it looks like the Democrats have finally done it. Nancy Pelosi gave her base what it has always wanted and greenlighted a House impeachment investigation against President Trump. Officially, it has something to do with the Ukraine. In reality, the Democrats are calling for impeachment for the same reason that they’ve been calling for impeachment for almost three years – because the wrong guy won the election back in 2016.

There are patterns in politics which, once they get started, do not easily stop. For instance, I think it is quite likely that, after Senate Republicans made their decision not to grant even a hearing to Merrick Garland, we’ll never see another Supreme Court Justice confirmed under divided government. Likewise, after what the Democrats did with the Kavanaugh hearings (which was complete overkill, since Justice Kavanaugh will probably turn out to be a liberal) there probably won’t be any more Supreme Court nominations that don’t involve baseless allegations of sex crimes.

But the precedent which the Democrats are currently setting really takes the cake, because if they go through with it, we can expect to see every president impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House, for the rest of our lives. The impeached presidents will likely never be convicted, but the familiar cycle of back-and-forth swings in the control of Congress will have gained a new and highly telegenic component.

If that is going to be the future of impeachment in the United States, then how, one might ask, does it compare to the process’ past? A review of history is order, if only for the sake of making it clear just how far our system of government has gone awry.

The opposite of one bad thing is usually another bad thing, and the future that is now barrelling down on us, in which every president is impeached, will be no worse than the last two centuries, during which the impeachment process was rarely used at all.

 The goal of America’s founders was to create a republic. To preserve that republican form of government, the elected officials in Congress were expected to frequently use their impeachment power to keep unelected officials in line. The broad phrasing of ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanours’ was intentional, and the authors of the Federalist papers imagined presidents being impeached for waging undeclared wars or otherwise abusing their power, while judges could likewise be impeached for exceeding their constitutional authority and attempting to usurp legislative power from Congress.

But history didn’t go in the direction it was supposed to. The first official of any sort to be impeached and tried by the Senate was Judge John Pickering in 1804; he was convicted of “drunkenness and unlawful rulings” and removed from office. But when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase faced the Senate the next year for his role in enforcing the unconstitutional Sedition Act, he was acquitted, and no other Justice has been impeached ever since.

The first presidential impeachment came in 1868 when Andrew Johnson was tried for wilfully violating an act of Congress that he deemed unconstitutional. Like Chase, Johnson was acquitted. And the framework in which such an event was possible – in which serious questions of constitutional limits were sometimes be decided by the democratic institution of an impeachment trial, rather than the oligarchic institution of judicial review – would not last into the coming century.

Ever since then, the probability of getting impeached has been proportional to the smallness of the offense. High crimes have made way for petty ones; grand overreaches of constitutional powers can’t get a politician hauled before the Senate, while misdeeds of the type that you or I could commit, such as lying in a sexual harassment lawsuit, just might do the job. That is how Richard Nixon was able to get away with expanding the Vietnam War to an entirely new country without risking his political life, but then ended up resigning anyway rather than be impeached for covering up a two-bit burglary.

And this process has reached its finale in what is happening to Donald Trump. The Democrats made up their minds from the beginning that they wanted him impeached, but they can’t do it for the high crimes he is actually guilty of, such as waging undeclared wars in the Middle East, because dusting off the constitution would put the entire bipartisan power structure in jeopardy. So instead, they spent two years blathering about Russian collusion, and when that didn’t pan out, they came up with the Ukraine thing.

An outline of Trump’s crime is as follows, and no, I am not making this up:

Back in 2014, Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma at a salary of $50,000 per month. Hunter Biden had no experience in the gas industry, and no qualifications for the position except that his father was Vice President. This, along with other events, led the Ukraine’s prosecutor general to open an investigation into Burisma for corruption. But then Joe Biden, while negotiating foreign loans in eastern Europe, threatened to withhold $1 billion from the Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired and the investigation dropped, and he got his way. You can read the whole story in this article at The Federalist.

After Donald Trump became president, he asked the Ukrainians to reopen the investigation. To hear the Democrats spin it, you’d think that Trump was simply going to foreigners for dirt on a political opponent, but in truth, the US has always worked with foreign intelligence agencies on international corruption cases like this, and there is no law granting immunity to the son of the Vice President. The fact that this is a continuation of an investigation that began before Trump was president makes it even harder to dismiss as a matter of partisan politics.

And so it begins. If the more vocal end of the Democratic party has its way, there will be an impeachment trial, which will almost certainly end in acquittal, followed by another impeachment trial, and another, every four or eight years when control of Congress changes hands and the new majority doesn’t like the president.

And to the few citizens who are really paying attention, all of this will come as just one more reminder that the job of elected officials these days is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard Is Right: America Should Stop Being Saudi Arabia’s Bitch

When America’s war machine is at the beck and call of the biggest human rights abuser in the Middle East, and not even Congress can stop the President from waging war on its behalf, something has gone terribly wrong.
Saudi Arabia’s long involvement in the Yemeni civil finally exploded onto the home front last weekend when a drone attack, launched by the Houthi rebels, destroyed oil processing facilities that handle half the country’s petroleum. This isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds, because even though production capacity has been briefly cut in half, most of the petroleum infrastructure – oil wells and so forth – is still in place, and the bottleneck will only last until repairs are made. Still, it was enough to send oil prices spiking and get an interesting response from President Trump, who tweeted the following:

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard replied to the tweet with:

“Trump awaits instructions from his Saudi masters. Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Now, as most folks are probably aware, the “culprit” that “we know” is supposed to be Iran, which has sided with the Houthis in the proxy war in Yemen. President Trump, on the other hand, has entered the war on Saudi Arabia’s side. Since America no longer has a constitution, no congressional approval was necessary, and when Congress tried to weigh in anyway, by passing a bill to end US involvement in the war back in April, the President responded with a quick veto.

The upshot is that America has inserted itself into the Arabian peninsula’s bitter Sunni-Shia rivalry by assisting in a brutal air war whose attendant famine and mass civilian deaths are driving more and more young men into the camp of the Houthi rebellion. These are the people I mentioned briefly in a post back in February, famous for, among other things, their one-of-a-kind national flag, which reads:

Allah is Great!
Death to America!
Death to Israel!
Curse on the Jews!
Victory to Islam!

As I’ve said before, these obviously aren’t the good guys. But neither are the Saudis, whose persecution of Shias and indifference to the suffering of poor Muslims all over the world has fed the flames for a whole catalog of terror movements. The Houthis are simply what you get when you treat the peasants the way the Saudis have been doing for decades. America has no business indulging this sort of regime.

And that’s why I agree with Tulsi Gabbard. Even though Gabbard is a Democrat, and I hence I reject her entire domestic agenda, I think she’s right to say that America should stop being Saudi Arabia’s bitch. If the President waits for instructions from a foreign monarch as to whom to attack, and then proceeds over the objections of his own country’s Congress, then he hasn’t done a good job of defending his country’s sovereignty.

That’s my opinion, unpopular as it may be on the Republican side of the fence. Nor do I buy into any of the propaganda about how America’s involvement in Middle Eastern statecraft is necessary to protect innocent countries from the evil that is Iran.

So the next time you hear a pro-Saudi neocon bloviating about Iran’s human rights record, just remember the facts. Iran didn’t wait until 2017 to let women drive – that was Saudi Arabia. And like Iran, Saudi Arabia executes a lot of people; what’s more, capital punishment isn’t limited to murder and sex crimes: the Saudis frequently behead religious dissidents, as well as teenage boys who participate in political protests.

And don’t forget about the Khashoggi murder. As a central pillar of international law, embassies and consulates are sacrosanct – pieces of a country over which it surrenders its sovereignty to a foreign government, even to the point of allowing criminals to live there for years if the hosts are sympathetic. And yet, in the mind of the Saudis prince, killing a visiting journalist, cutting him up with a bonesaw, and hiding the body in the backyard garden is an appropriate use for a consulate.

In an age when the West’s leaders had more honor, such an act would have resulted in an international uproar and the end of normal foreign relations for Saudi Arabia, as all of its embassies were closed and its ambassadors sent packing. Now? Hardly a whimper.

In conclusion: the American alliance with Saudi Arabia, and against Iran, isn’t based on human rights, or on putting America first, or even on upholding a stable and relatively peaceful world order. There just happens to be a very longstanding tradition, backed by a lot of oil money, of America being Saudi Arabia’s bitch.

And, as events have shown, it’s not a tradition that President Trump has any desire to challenge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Nobody Will Win The Trade War

The tariffs which President Trump is imposing on China are a good way to look tough in front of the voters. But as long as the Federal Reserve keeps making it possible for America to consume more goods than it produces, the American working man will remain obsolete.
As anyone who hasn’t spent the last two years hiding under a rock must know by now, President Trump is waging a so-called Trade War with China. The idea – insofar as there is any idea behind it – is that by bringing home the victory in the trade war, Mr. Trump will restore the jobs that have been bled out of this country over the last few decades.

Now, it’s true that America has been losing manufacturing jobs since the 1980s, and many of our rust belt towns are only a shadow of what they once were. But if the situation really calls for a ‘war,’ trade or otherwise, then it’s necessary to answer the question of just what belligerent act started the hostilities, and just how it is that further belligerent acts will force the enemy to back down.

But thinking about those questions will cast a lot of doubt on the idea that a ‘Trade War’ with China is a good idea, or that it’s something which the United States (or China, for that matter) could possible ‘win.’

Like all of the economic problems in the modern world, the trade deficit with China – which is supposedly Trump’s causes bellum – is tightly bound up with monetary policy and central banking. America has a trade deficit with China because the Federal Reserve, by printing so much paper money, has allowed America to import more goods than it exports without running out of currency.

But if you listened to the politicians, you would hear that China is a currency manipulator, which is true, of course. China, like the United States, has laws which assign arbitrary monetary value to paper currency; both countries manipulate their tokens of currency to be worth more their intrinsic value. If China does this in a way that America doesn’t approve of, so what? It isn’t like America’s day-by-day decisions as to what it’s money should be worth don’t also create winners and losers.

No amount of currency manipulation by China would allow America to do what it does – that is, to consume more goods than it produces – if it weren’t for America’s own bankers creating enough dollars from thin air to support America’s present trade deficit. If we still used gold or silver money, trade deficits would be impossible. As it is, the easy money which the Fed has been providing, with Mr. Trump’s support, for the last few years will guarantee a continuation of the status quo, no matter how many tariffs and counter-tariffs are imposed to distract us from that fact.

As long as the dollar remains the global reserve currency, and America keeps on exporting dollars in lieu of actual goods and services, the American working man will keep on losing. Eventually, this arrangement will have to end, but after decades of deindustrialization, America can’t lose its ability to rely on foreign labour without becoming, in the meantime, a vastly poorer country. America’s wealthy classes are benefitting handsomely from an arrangement in which the Federal Reserve replaces the American worker as the means by which America pays for its imports.

And so, no matter what sort of rhetoric they put out for public consumption, politicians on both sides of the aisle will do their best to keep the trade deficit in place. Meanwhile, as the trade war continues, farmers will complain about being unable to find buyers for their grain, construction workers will complain about the higher price of steel, and Democrats will blame all our economic woes on President Trump and his deplorables, because they, like the Republicans, have no desire to talk about what has really made the American worker obsolete.

Now, the fact that America is losing the Trade War does not mean that China is going to win. Trade is, after all, supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement; no matter how hard you try, you can’t win at trade when the other side insists on seeing it as a zero sum game. Rather, what’s really going to happen to the Chinese, sometime in the next decade or so, is that the consequences of dealing with the United States on the terms I have described will finally catch up to them.

If the United States consumes more than it produces, then somebody has to produce more than it consumes, and the primary country filling that role today is the People’s Republic of China. For a great many years, China has done the opposite of what America has done; China has exported more than it imported, and that surplus has led China to accumulate of over a trillion dollars in imaginary paper wealth – specifically, in US Treasury Bonds.

The Chinese have lent us the money to buy their own products. It made them rich, in a sense, for the time being. But in the long term, it’s a losing strategy. China now owns so many dollar-denominated assets that the Chinese stand to be the next biggest loser, after America itself, when the bottom finally falls out of the US Dollar.

Both countries know this. Neither side really wants to upset the apple cart. The Trade War is a distraction, created out of political necessity, as President Trump must placate his voters with tariffs, and President Xi must save face by responding in kind. And at the end of the day, the game has no winners.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Stop Regulating Commerce Between Foreign Nations

If Congress and the President had a basic understanding of what powers the constitution’s commerce clause does and does not give them, this whole Iran fiasco could have been avoided.
For several months now, the Americans and their allies have been trading threats with Iran. What began with attacks on oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz – which the United States blamed on Iran – has escalated into the downing of drones by both sides, and then in July the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized a British ship in the Straits, in retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian vessel near the Straits of Gibraltar earlier in the month.

News sites are blaring with headlines about ‘War Drums,’ though the public should view this through a lens of scepticism. Rumours of war have always kept newsmen in business, and so they tend to get deployed whether there’s actually going to be a war or not. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of war out of hand.

All of this raises the question of how we got to the brink of war, and to answer that question, we need to go all the way back of the Constitution of 1787, in which Congress was given power ‘To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.’

Debate over the commerce clause usually centers on how broadly to read the phrase ‘among the several states.’ Occasionally, the political and legal debate will turn to the subject of regulating ‘commerce with foreign nations.’ Some people might naively think, as I once did, that imposing sanctions is an exercise of this power – and they would be right, if they were talking about the sorts of trade embargoes that were used in the early Republic, when, for instance, Jefferson signed the Embargo Acts to retaliate for Britain’s impressment of American sailors to fight in the Napoleonic War.

But that isn’t what modern sanctions – like the sanctions that lie at the heart of the Iran debacle – are doing. The Trump administration hasn’t simply decided that Americans must not trade with Iran, what it has done is imposed punishments for any firm, in any nation, which does business with Iran. What the government has now claimed is the power to regulate commerce between foreign nations.

Here is how this plays out in practice: Most countries still want to have normal trade relations with Iran, which, unlike the United States, did keep its end of the deal with respect to uranium enrichment. However, these countries’ merchant classes have generally refused to go along with the pro-Iranian policies of their governments, for fear of ending up like Meng Wanzhou.

Meng, you may recall, was the Chinese woman who was arrested in Canada last December, at the request of US authorities, on account of dealings she had carried on with Iran in her capacity as CFO of Huawei. She has been held in Canada ever since, as the authorities there dither about whether to extradite her to the United States to be tried for breaking American laws.

Keep in mind that Meng wasn’t actually in the United States when she committed any of her alleged crimes. She was just a Chinese businesswoman doing business with Iran. And one can only imagine how America would react if the roles were reversed – if, for example, an American travelling in Russia was arrested at the request of Chinese authorities for defying Chinese sanctions against Taiwan. Needless to say, the United States would not take well to such treatment.

And yet when the American authorities deal with China’s citizens this way, seemingly level-headed publications like The Federalist defend their modus operandi, with articles like this one accusing China of “bullying” Canada by making (unsuccessful) demands for Meng’s release, and defending Canada’s role with such hackneyed prose as the following:

“The Canadian government has tried very hard to explain to Beijing that Meng’s arrest was not politically driven.... The [U.S.] Justice Department launched a criminal probe into Huawei’s dealings in Iran in April 2017. The arrest warrant for Meng was issued in August by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and Meng was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions.” To U.S. authorities, arresting Meng in Canada was a natural choice, because Meng stopped traveling to the United States in 2017.”

This would all make a bit more sense if the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York somehow had jurisdiction over alleged frauds committed in China and Iran. Under the Constitution of 1787, it doesn’t, but as that constitution wasn’t written with global imperialism in mind, the people who presently run this country have seen fit to abandon it.

China’s leaders, being as commercialist as they are, ultimately decided to let the matter slide rather than jeopardize Sino-American trade by responding in kind. Needless to say, it won’t always be this way; the Chinese know that, a few years hence, America won’t be the largest economy any more, and it will be their turn to make the demands.

In the meantime, the biggest losers are the Iranians. Although most countries do not share America’s antipathy toward Iran, few international corporations are willing to risk the wrath of the global hegemon. When a company must choose between severing ties with Iran, and ceasing to do business in the United States, raw economics determines that the ‘indispensable nation’ will come out on top.

This is why Ron Paul has been saying for so long that sanctions are ‘an act of war.’ For one country to be cut off from the rest of the world by the threat of violence against anybody of any nationality, anywhere on Earth, who dares to treat it like a normal country, is an attack on the sovereignty of not just one foreign nation, but all of them.

But America’s days of acting this way are numbered. The Americans have long depended on the rest of the world’s demand for paper dollars to keep them in the number one economic spot even though they manufacture few tangible goods. But with their liberal use of sanctions, the Americans are sawing through their own perch.

More and more countries are dedollarizing in order to make it harder for the United States to claim jurisdiction over their commerce – and this process will sooner or later result in a disastrous shock to the American economy, with severe inflation as dollars lose their appeal abroad and come flooding back home. And all of it, perhaps, would have been avoidable, if only America’s rulers had taken their constitutional limits more seriously, rather than trying to regulate commerce between foreign nations.

America’s founders fought the War of Independence in order to gain for their new country a “separate and equal status” with other nations. Hegemony was never part of the plan. A return to constitution government requires that America recognize that it is a nation among nations, not an overlord among vassals, and act accordingly.